Is My Friend Addicted to Porn?

I was recently talking with my friend, a non-binary trans man, about porn and masturbation.

This isn’t the first time he’s got quite serious with me and said, “I am doing it a lot”. As he said this, he had a look on his face that showed he isn’t celebrating this with me; something is bothering him. He went on to share that he, “does it three times a day sometimes and again if I wake up in the middle of the night”.

Addicted to Porn

I asked my friend if he thinks this is a problem, and, if so, what is problematic about it. After all, who decides how often human beings should masturbate?

He said, “I have other things I should be doing; I am wasting time!”

I asked him if he believes pleasure and self-soothing is a waste of time? I wondered, in a system of capitalism which values productivity and always being busy, is masturbation seen as lazy, unproductive, and superfluous?

I asked, “Is it working for you?” — does he gain something positive from masturbating regularly (entertainment, pleasure, relaxation, soothing), in the absence of any detrimental effect on his life or anyone else’s?

He said (still serious) that he knows there are times he’s feeling horny in his body/mind and is responding to that, and that these times he enjoys a range of porn and feels involved in what he is doing. And then there are other times where he simply finds himself reaching for his phone. He talks like he can’t really make sense of why he keeps doing it because it isn’t very satisfying.

Habitual Masturbation and Porn Consumption

I said, so you feel like there is some ‘habit’ around masturbation and porn for you? I likened it to the way I reach for the kettle and the caffeinated teabags!

“Is it a harmful habit? What worries you about it?”

He reacted like this should be obvious; something continues not to sit right. I consider the possibility that he has internalised the standardised sexual shame from his family and the wider culture, but I stay quiet about this.

He said, “I just do it, and it has started to not even feel good.”

We talked about what feelings and experiences might be around at this point and I wondered out loud about challenging emotions or loneliness that can be born of boredom.

He thought about boredom — having loads of chores and responsibilities — and he elaborated on this previous point. He explained that his hand often makes contact with his genitals when they’re not particularly responsive (in engorgement or lubrication). In response, he searches for edgier and more aggressive porn to try and get his arousal started. He told me that he doesn’t really get anymore aroused, despite carrying on rubbing himself, and either struggles to orgasm, or has a disappointing orgasm.

I reflected “and it’s not always like this?”

He referred again to times when he touches the rest of his body and can enjoy some really tender, hot, ethical porn. During these times, he feels a great deal of pleasure in his genitals and can have a satisfying orgasm. He knows that he has a ‘cycle’ each month (maybe background cycles as he is assigned female at birth (AFAB), combined with testosterone injections every three weeks) where his interest in sex fluctuates.

masturbation solo

Suggesting Solutions

I get my sex educator hat on…

What I will definitely NOT do:

  • Suggest ‘NoFap’ or any kind of abstinence
  • Use the word addiction when talking about porn or masturbation
  • Analyse what might be wrong with him or his childhood
  • Invalidate his concern and tell him not to worry about it

What I will do:

  • Listen carefully to him and the exact shade of his experience and concern.
  • Empathise, normalise, and have a relaxed, curious response.
  • Ask if he wants a suggestion (he knows he is talking to a sex educator after all)

He said yes to this last one. So, I suggested that he continued exactly as he is and not change anything, except for one little addition…

Adding Friction

I advised him that before he masturbates, he should write down one intention. Even if that intention is “I intend to have a wank and fall asleep”.

I explained that this little step, which will take less than a minute, adds a little pause. This little pause is short but can hold a lot — a breath, conscious thought, mindfulness, awareness of the body, and decision-making.

It also adds ‘friction’, because it slows him down and adds another step. In the mainstream behaviour change field, reducing friction would be laying out your running shoes the night before, and adding friction would be putting beer out of sight in the fridge. This little game adds just a little friction to the aspects of masturbation that feel habitual.

He was pleased and excited to try this. He said he thought that sometimes the act of writing it down would make him realise it was not actually what he wanted to do at all, and that he could make other choices, or maybe delay the fun till later. But we agreed that when he does go ahead, he would go into it having given himself permission.

I added that if someone wanted to add a little more friction (my brain had an idea it has never had before) then he could get a pack of stickers by the bed. The plan would be that he makes a rule that he’ll only masturbate when he’s written an intention AND stuck a sticker somewhere on his body. The sticker is a marker – when he is wearing the sticker, this is his solo pleasure time.

Physical actions like writing intentions and sticking something on your own skin are more likely to feel real, gain traction and attention, and are more likely to disrupt well-trodden default pathways.

Exercising Choice

We also talked about how if masturbation functions as a way to regulate the nervous system and self-soothe, what are some other things that would feel just as good? Are these other things perhaps what the body and mind are actually craving?

a queer person in the bath

Let’s horizontalize human experiences. We’re not creating a hierarchy that having a bath and listening to music or calling a friend are morally superior — or better for your health — than masturbating.

The point is to exercise CHOICE, to feel like you have options and to create just a little space in which you do act with self-consent and agency.

What if you find your hands down your pants?!

If he was my client, there’s a high chance he is going to report this at our next session.

What are we to do?

I would suggest self-compassion and talking to yourself with neutrality about the behaviour (remembering you did not harm anyone, including yourself) and self-compassion (you are a human with human sexuality).

And either go gently back to the plan or explore what else you might want to do — ‘nothing’ is a valid answer, no one HAS to change their (private/consensual) masturbation!

More examples of intentions:

  • I intend to think about a particular person and feel like I am spending time with them
  • I intend to touch myself with both hands, not just one
  • I intend to take my attention from the porn to my body, and back again, over and over
  • I intend to explore anal pleasure
  • I intend to enjoy the journey, not a destination

How this comes up in my work

I could tell you a lot more about how I support clients to expand their self-pleasure and develop novel and interesting ways of exploring their own bodies. And how it is often (but not always) trans men and transmasculine non-binary people who are supplementing with testosterone who express these worries to me — that’s a whole other article!

The ‘cure’ doesn’t work, and has side effects

For many of us, we have only been exposed to the narratives of porn/sex addiction and the adverts from the profit-making addiction and recovery industry, which contributes to our shame and worry about these aspects of our private lives.

Proposed solutions include expensive rehab and specialist therapy, complete abstinence and phone apps that monitor and report you to people in your life if you visit porn sites. There’s also a disturbing trend of high-profile repeat offenders of sexual abuse and harassment using the diagnosis of sex addiction to explain and deny responsibility for their crimes (modelling terrible accountability around consent to the rest of us).

Reframing

It’s true that some people need and will benefit from therapeutic support to address ‘out of control’ or ‘compulsive’ sexual behaviour that’s affecting their work, relationships, and life in negative ways. This can be achieved without adding further shame about sex and kinks or diagnosing someone with a disorder, and by exploring what they need — holistically and sexually — as whole people.

Here are some resources if you are interested in exploring further;

Meg-John Barker in discussion with Dominic Davies about why Sex Addiction does not exist.

An interview with Silva Neves, author of ‘Compulsive Sexual Behaviour A Psycho-Sexual Treatment Guide’, about his work.

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